Last semester, during the COVID-19 lockdown, I took a pro seminar titled the Moral Dimensions of Harm. We were a small group which allowed for dynamic discussions despite Zoom constraints.

In countering COVID-19, Austria locked down early, and restrictions were tight. Being outside of your home was only permitted for essential work, to buy food, or to help others. Gatherings of more than five people weren’t allowed.

In a seminar about harm, it was only natural that much of our discussion revolved around the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. For example, as lockdown restrictions thwarted individual interests – a common definition of harm – was the response morally justified?

Another issue raised was regarding citizens responsibility to protect common-pool resources like the public healthcare system. A key reason for the lockdown was to protect critical healthcare infrastructure.

This justification established a de facto new standard of personal responsibility regarding the healthcare system. Before COVID-19 individuals’ duties were limited to financing the system through taxes and insurance contributions. No obligations were placed on not becoming ill and thereby needing medical attention. Since COVID-19 under certain circumstances citizens now have a duty to remain healthy and place fewer demands on the healthcare system.

Unfortunately, the Austrian healthcare system, like many other healthcare systems in Europe, is overburdened. The majority of healthcare costs are directly attributed to preventable chronic illness such as Type II diabetes and high blood pressure. Being overweight is a key contributor to both ailments much of this in turn is a result of poor nutrition and lack of exercise.

Just as we are faced with a corona pandemic we are also faced with an obesity epidemic. If protecting the healthcare system justifies curtailing personal liberty in the case of COVID-19, can the same justification be applied to countering the obesity epidemic?

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Image by (Joenomias) Menno de Jong from Pixabay

2 thoughts on “French fries and freedom

  1. ‘Just as we are faced with a corona pandemic we are also faced with an obesity epidemic. If protecting the healthcare system justifies curtailing personal liberty in the case of COVID-19, can the same justification be applied to countering the obesity epidemic?’
    A challenging question. Perhaps the first time I’ve seen a Bruce Straight post venture over to my supposed area of expertise (sports development/ not weight loss!). Indeed, I wrote my masters thesis on the role of anchor institutions (state/& private) role in addressing the obesity crisis. Which is somewhat, but not really, linked to the question you are asking.
    In my opinion, we do not have the ability to solve the obesity crisis until we start to solve the income disparity crisis (and the work-life balance crisis!). It is no coincidence that those who are a) poor or b) time poor are the most unhealthy amongst us (myself included!). If you earn below the average you will buy the cheapest food in the shops (what other choice do you have?) which tend to be the worst quality food in terms of nutrition. If you work unsocial hours then you will eat at times which are not conducive to your own health. We do have a subsection of our society who are neither poor nor time poor and are incredibly unhealthy. The challenging is, if we can solve the two other issues, how do we engage these people? Is it culturally ingrained? Do we need to be creative in public policy development to get these people to lose weight? I.e. is it cheaper for us to pay people to go to the gym then it is to pay for their hospital bills? Prevention is better than the cure etc. Just a thought.

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